| Failed Attempt: Halo Ridge via Notch Mountain
Route: Halo Ridge with a variation over Notch Mountain.
Participants: stevevets689, Moses and Noah
I am posting this to give climbers an idea of what the notch in Notch Mountain has in store for you if you choose to take that route. There‘s more to the story than that, so hopefully you like to read.
Two fellow interns, Moses and Noah, decided to join me for a long trip around Halo Ridge. The plan was to hike to the top of Half Moon Pass, hike up Notch Mountain, through the notch, stay the night in Notch Mountain Shelter, and continue on Halo Ridge the next day to the top of Holy Cross.
Friday we took off from work and headed into the mountains. We joked around about our "biblical journey," as I was leading Moses and Noah to the top of Mount of the Holy Cross. We decided we don‘t like Vail after we had difficulty finding a gas station where we could go to the bathroom (there are three exits, and naturally the third one leads you to all the gas stations) and decided the little town of Minturn on US 24 is actually more tourist friendly. We found the Tigiwon road with no problem and proceeded up the long, bumpy road. My old ‘85 Volvo wagon with a long wheelbase and rear-wheel drive had no problems (except that all the gear in the back kept nudging the rear hatch, making the car‘s inside lights flicker. This was actually a cool effect when put to music, especially They Might Be Giants). We arrived at the trailhead after it got dark, and Noah was going to sleep outside but it started raining. So it was that I slept between Noah and Moses in the back of my Volvo at the Half Moon trailhead.
When 3:30 AM rolled around, Noah and I were awake anyway so we decided "what the hell" and got up. We were on the trail by 0400. We hiked up the pass in the dark and it barely got light enough to turn our lights off just before we arrived at the top of the pass. Right around then, we heard a very eerie howling coming from Notch Mountain. We thought that they must be coyotes, but when we really listened, we decided they couldn‘t be coyotes. Coyotes yip a lot, and yes they howl too but not like this, this sounded different. I am almost positive that it was wolves we were hearing. I had never heard coyotes that sounded like this and I‘m from the San Luis Valley.
Anyway, once the howling stopped we continued to the top of the pass. Then, following instructions I received from a forum member, we continued on for maybe 30 feet and found an unimproved trail turning off to the left. We followed this, and it lead us around the North part of Notch Mountain to switchback up its East Side. The trail actually gets pretty good and its cairned. It led us just under Notch‘s summit and finally dumped us at the notch. From here, you might wonder how in the world you‘re going to get around the cliff face that guards Notch‘s South Summit. We followed the advice in Roach‘s 14ers book and made our way carefully down the steep, loose terrain to the coulior that leads to the notch. All the while, we were eying a ledge that cuts through the cliffs, which Roach says is the "class 3" way through. The problem is getting to the ledge. The easiest way I found was class 4 to easy 5 (Noah gave it a 5.2), and I was on it before I realized its difficulty. Noah climbed up behind me and took my pack, and I made my way to the easier terrain under the ledge. Then Noah slowly pushed my pack up to where I could grab it, and decided to downclimb. He, Moses and I looked for an easier way up, mainly for Moses. Poor guy, this was his first backpacking trip. After about an hour spent here, we found no easier way. For my own satisfaction, I continued briefly along the ledge and around a corner to find what lay behind it. From there it looks like a class 3 climb up blocks back to the ridge, and the shelter. But I would not find out this trip. I came back to the others, found a way to get to where I could jump down to them, and we retreated. A concern for our safety drowned out our disappointment. Our return to the car was uneventful, and we arrived there at around 2:00 PM.
This route is not a good place to start your "class 3" skills. You should be comfortable on loose rock and class 4 terrain at least before you try this.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):